Lib Dems race reduced to 'a farce'

SENIOR LIBERAL Democrats fear the race to succeed Paddy Ashdown will degenerate into a "messy farce" because seven possible runners are stubbornly refusing to slim down the field to a manageable size.

The seven MPs are playing a game of "who blinks first" as they test their level of support among the party's 88,000 members. Liberal Democrat grandees had hoped the number of candidates would be cut to four by now.

Instead, the rivals may go to the wire by waiting to see how many nominations they secure by the closing date of 28 June. They would then have three hours in which to decide whether to allow their names to go on to the ballot paper.

Some frantic last-minutehorse-trading could take place between rival candidates during the three-hour period, with one offering to stand aside for another in return for the promise of a senior frontbench job. "It will be a game of Russian roulette," one Liberal Democrat MP said yesterday.

Instead of raising the Liberal Democrats' profile, there are growing fears that the unwieldy contest might confuse partymembers and alienate the voters. "It's turning into a nightmare," said a senior party source.

Pressure is now mounting on some of the seven to stand aside quickly, rather than keep their names in the frame until the last possible moment.

Menzies Campbell, the party's foreign affairs and defence spokesman, is said to be "agonising" over whether to stand, and is due to announce his decision soon.

Opponents of the front-runner, Charles Kennedy, see Mr Campbell, the party's elder statesman, as the only rival who can defeat him. Those with doubts about Mr Kennedy are said to include Lord Jenkins of Hillhead and Lord Steel of Aikwood, former leaders of the Social Democratic Party and Liberals respectively, before the two parties merged.

But Mr Campbell has alienated some potential backers by wavering and there is speculation that he will not run. Friends say he wants to be convinced he can win; as he enters the last lap of his political career, there is no merit in the former Olympic 100 metres runner coming second.

Such a decision would be a boost for Mr Kennedy, who has adopted a low profile since Mr Ashdown announced his surprise resignation in January, while other candidates have fought what Liberal Democrats call "a non- campaign". Officially, campaigning is banned until after the European Parliament elections on 10 June.

Mr Kennedy's backers say he has the "X factor" needed to broaden the party's appeal to the public. "We mustn't elect a William Hague figure who can pander to his party but looks hopeless on TV," said a Kennedy aide.

In turn, the Kennedy camp has launched a campaign to stop a bandwagon which has been running in favour of Jackie Ballard, MP for Taunton, the only woman in the race. Although little known outside Liberal Democrat circles, she has deep roots in the party. An outsider at the outset, allies say she now has the vital ingredient in any political campaign - momentum. "She is the nightmare scenario," said one of Mr Kennedy's backers.

She is also the candidate most hostile to Mr Ashdown's controversial strategy of forging closer links with Labour. The Kennedy camp believes that she would take the Liberal Democrats back into the wilderness, spurning Mr Blair's offers of a taste of power.

Links with Labour will dominate the election. The candidates divide into two camps on the issue - Mr Kennedy, Mr Campbell and Don Foster would broadly continue with Mr Ashdown's strategy, while Ms Ballard, David Rendel, Simon Hughes and Malcolm Bruce are more sceptical.

Mr Hughes will decide by the end of this month whether to run and Mr Bruce may also pull out after assessing his support. But Mr Foster and Mr Rendel are adamant they will go all the way, and so far the only candidate to "blink" is Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrats' campaign chief, who is backing Mr Campbell.

Ballot papers will be sent out on 12 July, with the result of contest announced on 9 August.

The Contenders

Charles Kennedy: Ross, Skye and Inverness West MP. Elected at 24 in 1983. Favoured by Tony Blair. Telegenic, but accused of lacking grip on policy detail. Seen as lightweight after Call My Bluff TV appearance. Odds: 4-5

Jackie Ballard: Aged 46. Taunton MP. Very cool on close links with Labour. Only woman in race; but "the only candidate with balls", say her supporters. But lacking experience on the Westminster stage. Odds: 25-1

Don Foster: Aged 52. Ousted Chris Patten at Bath in 1992. Ashdown loyalist who favours close links with Labour. Articulate and energetic. Respected education spokesman but suffered humiliating defeat on schools policy at last autumn's Lib Dem conference.Odds: 16-1

David Rendel: 50-year-old social security spokesman, won Newbury seat in 1993 by-election. Has a power base amongst Lib Dem councillors. Favours "bargepole" approach with Labour. Likeable toff,but Old Etonian and Oxford background may count against him. Critics claim he lacks charisma. Odds: 10-1

Malcolm Bruce: 54-year-old MP for Gordon. Treasury spokesman, and a strong advocate of putting 1p on income tax to boost state education. Accused of being a lightweight.More of kingmaker than king. Odds: 33- 1

Simon Hughes: 48-year-old health spokesman captured safe-Labour Bermondsey seat in dirty 1983 by-election. "Thus far, no further" approach to Labour. Popular among grassroots.Disorganised.Odds: 10-1.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?